Paterson urges more research rather than 'rushing' into pesticide ban
Environment Secretary Owen Paterson has warned against rushing into a ban on pesticides feared to have a damaging effect on bees.
The European Commission has proposed restricting the use of certain neonicotinoid insecticides so they cannot be used on crops such as oil seed rape, which are attractive to bees.
The move follows a report from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) which concluded three neonicotinoids should not be used on crops that are attractive to honey bees because they could be exposed to harm through pollen or nectar.
Concerns have been raised that exposure to the insecticides can have an immediate or long-term effect on bee colony survival and development and that sub-lethal doses can have impacts such as damaging foraging behaviour.
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But Mr Paterson voiced fears at the annual National Farmers' Union conference in Birmingham that the EU's partial ban would be brought in on the basis of laboratory results, before research conducted on their impact in the real environment had been analysed.
He said the UK had conducted field research into the impacts of the chemicals "with real bees in real fields", and had urged the Commission to delay any decision until data from field trials could be analysed.
He insisted he had an open mind about the situation, but warned there could be environmental and economic impacts of banning neonicotinoids.
One of their main uses in the UK is on oil seed rape, which honey bees commonly feed on.
"We are analysing field data, with real bees in real fields in real conditions," he said. "I'm nervous there will be a rushed decision on this before our field data can be properly taken into account. Bees are incredibly important, and we've got to get this right from a bee point of view."
He said it was important to find out what was happening to bees, and not make a snap decision just to give people a warm feeling that they had taken action to protect the insects.
And he warned that banning neonicotinoid pesticides might lead farmers to fall back on other products which were licensed but not good for the environment.
"Secondly, we've got to look at the economic impact, there may be a very significant drop in yields.
"I'm open minded, but I don't want it to be rushed."
Friends of the Earth's senior nature campaigner, Paul de Zylva, said: "We agree that a science-led approach to pesticides is needed – and scientists warn of a link between neonicotinoid chemicals and bee decline.
"The UK Government should support restrictions on these insecticides until the evidence shows they are not having a devastating impact on our bees and other vital pollinators."